Induction chemotherapy for advanced head and neck cancer: Modification of response to chemotherapy by antiemetics

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Forty Stage IV head and neck cancer patients were entered on a multimodality trial of induction chemotherapy (cisplatin + infusional 5-fluorouracil), surgery, and radiation. During chemotherapy, the patients of Group A (the first 19 patients) were medicated with metoclopramide. The patients of Group B (the next 21 patients) were medicated with droperidol. The groups were comparable. The response rate (complete + partial) was 32% for Group A and 52% for Group B (p = 0.16). Primary site (p = 0.08) and surgical margin (p = 0.005) clearance of tumor were better in Group B. Nodal disease responded poorly to chemotherapy in both groups. Tumor necrosis (p = 0.006) and granulation tissue (p = 0.07) were reduced in surgical specimens after chemotherapy in Group B. The drugs were well tolerated with reversible toxicity; nausea/vomiting (p = 0.01) and weight loss (p = 0.07) after chemotherapy, were increased in Group B. The 2-year survival was 26% for Group A and 62% for Group B (p = 0.027). The median survival was 15 months for Group A and 33 months for Group B (p = 0.05). Progression-free survival improved in Group B (p > 0.17). These improvements in response and survival did not appear to reflect changes in surgical or radiotherapy management, but may have reflected an uninhibited effect of cisplatin in Group B. It is theorized that the metabisulfite formulated with metoclopramide altered the pharmacokinetics or pharmacodynamics of cisplatin. This resulted in the poor response to chemotherapy and poor survival in Group A. An analysis of a randomized trial comparing metoclopramide (formulated with metabisulfite) versus a control antiemetic can confirm the data presented in this pilot study. Overall, our patients survived as well as others in comparable multimodality studies in Europe and the United States.

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